Wording Matters: Poll Wording Impacts Support for Gay Marriage


A recent Fox News poll asked Americans about same-sex marriage using two different question wording frames. The first frame asking about "changing the definition of the word marriage to also include same-sex couples" garnered 39 percent support, while 56 percent opposed. In contrast, on the same poll 46 percent favored "legalizing same-sex marriage" while 47 percent opposed. Americans are more reluctant to support marriage for same-sex couples when framed as changing a word's definition. When framed as legalization, more Americans support marriage equality, resulting in a 7 point increase in support. 

Would you approve or disapprove of changing the definition of the word marriage to also include same-sex couples?

  • 39% Approve
  • 56% Disapprove
  • 5% Don't Know

Do you favor or oppose legalizing same-sex marriage?

  • 46% Favor
  • 47% Opposed
  • 7% Don't Know 

Source: Fox News Poll

In May, Gallup asked survey respondents if they thought most Americans favored or opposed same-sex marriage: 63 percent assumed most Americans opposed same-sex marriage while 30 percent were in favor. However, in the same month Pew found that nearly three-fourths of Americans thought that legal recognition of same-sex couples is inevitable, and a quarter thought it was not. While most Americans believe same-sex marriage is still not popular, they expect it will eventually be accepted.

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  1. Do you really care?: 2%

  2. So the difference is between leaving people alone (Support SSM) and forcing everyone to recognize same sex marriage (change the definition).

    Guess which the left is going for.

  3. If words really mattered, then reason contributors would stop using “legalizing same-sex marriage” and start using “government recognizing same-sex marriage”. In other words, if they started to issue pedestrian licenses so they could hand out benefits, would we say they legalized walking?

    1. +1, QFT, and other indicia of enthusiastic agreement.

  4. You do realize that the two questions ask different things

    Changing the definition of marriage does not necessarily involve the government

    Making same sex marriage legal does involve the government.

    How about we get government out of marriage and if individuals want to change the definition of marriage its up to them. Other people who don’t want to change that definition are not forced to.

    1. Other people who don’t want to change that definition are not forced to.

      Well, there’s your problem…

  5. I’m flummoxed.

  6. To legalize implies taking something that is illegal and making it legal, as if same sex couples were rotting in prison for the crime of marriage. Totally disingenuous.

    1. Yes, but since it polls better, they want to phrase it that way. You might as well say, “should the President pardon all the people in prison for same-sex marriage?”

    2. It’s also disingenuous to use the other question. Someone could continue to define marriage as between a man and a woman and still not care what the government decides to do. It’s a cooked up poll.

      1. I would like to see if the results change at all if it refers to “the *government* changing the definition of marriage.”

        1. Or, if you wish, “the government changing its definition of marriage, and changing the definition by private business as well.”

          1. Not that one. Public accommodation and anti-discrimination laws are separate issues.

            1. Then why are all these stories about suits against florists, threats against wedding venues, closing of tour companies, etc., etc., coming out right now, when SSM is being established by law?

              If these things aren’t related, neither are Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

              1. Those stories are in the news more now but they were already happening and do happen in states that haven’t adopted same sex marriage yet. Separate laws. You don’t like that so you conflate them. You can support one law and not the other, which many people here do.

                1. I’d very much like to see those pre-SSM cases where private business were punished for adopting the same definition of marriage as their own states.

                  I am aware that people here want to erect a barrier between SSM and the “civil rights” statutes, but these laws aren’t being drafted on the principles you espouse. When you emerge from the dorm bull session, you’ll see these two developments are just as much related as Cleopatra and her brother/husband.

                  1. but these laws aren’t being drafted on the principles you espouse.

                    They aren’t being drafted with reference to private businesses AT ALL. Those are completely separate laws no matter how much you pretend them not to be.

                    One of the most famous cases was/is in New Mexico which doesn’t have gay marriage and the incident occurred in 2005, long before Gay Marriage became legal in many places.

                    1. The incident may have been in 2005, but according to the article, “The New Mexico Human Rights Commission and the district court had ruled against Elane Photography in 2008 and 2009.”

                      So if New Mexico, a rarity among states, chooses to enforce SSM on private businesses before enforcing it *on itself,* how does that affect the other states where the sequence was the opposite?

                      And if there’s no connection, why do states passing SSM laws specifically reject amendments protecting private businesses?

                    2. That’s simple. The “amendments” that are proposed are designed to exempt businesses from existing anti-discrimination law, in other words, granting a licence to discriminate. How would you react if a wedding-related business, such as a baker or florist refused to accept business from a couple because they were Jewish? Because they were white?

                      This idea of “religious freedom” being infringed by anti-discrimination law that has been on the books for many years is a ridiculous red herring. If a business is open to the public, it must comply with public accommodation anti-discrimination law, and in many jurisdictions that includes sexual orientation.

                      This outrageous argument mirrors the arguments that were used against blacks, women and inter-racial marriage in the past, and they are just as invalid.

                    3. I believe in the right to discriminate all you want btw Alslander but conflating those laws with SSM laws is misleading. I support gay marriage and businesses being able to discriminate for any reason whatsoever.

    3. The poll swing gets at the essence of the issue as I see it. It’s not like the situation with interracial marriages, which everyone understood were indeed marriages and which the law could make legal or illegal. It’s not like polygamy issues, where the question is how many marriages a person may legally be a partner to at a time. It’s about the legal meanings of words, the same as it has been with dollar/thaler and pound.

      Changing the meanings of money measures (from established weights of silver to whatever the gov’t-privileged banker said) was a different matter entirely from allowing or prohibiting barter in whatever items of value people want to. It affected more parties than just those who voluntarily exchanged those items.

  7. Wording always matters in every opinion poll. That’s the first iron rule of opinion polling. The more we can point this out to people, the better.

    1. And the order of the questions also effects the answer. Of course who is being asked is also very important.

      That is why most polls that are reported are pretty worthless since you don’t get enough information.

    2. Whaddaya know: two crap poll questions get different answers.

      Film at 11:00.

  8. I like how, depending on the phrasing, there’s still a majority against, but another majority saying it’s inevitable.

    I wonder where this sense of inevitability comes from? I think the media is doing this deliberately, talking about it as a sure thing, plus many voters cynics and have the impression that this change is going to happen without them being consulted. Totally paranoid, I know.

    1. I think it’s because the proponents are relentless and will resort to any dishonest means to achieve their goal. Like for example here in Maine they first put homosexuals on the list of protected classes, chiding those who said it was a ploy to redefine marriage as being conspiracy nuts. The moment that amendment passed a lawsuit was filed to redefine marriage under equal protection of protected classes.

      1. You mean they claimed that SSM and “anti-discrimination” laws were unrelated, and it turned out they were? Inconceivable!

    2. I wonder where this sense of inevitability comes from?

      If younger people are more likely than older people to support it, as the older people die off they’ll get ‘replaced’ by people who’ve grown up watching token gay characters in many of their favorite movies and TV shows.

      I don’t oppose same sex marriage, by the way. I’m just a cynical bastard who suspects that the younger generation supports SSM not because of any sincere libertarian principles, but rather because pop culture told them to. “All the coolest celebs are tweeting their support for gay marriage! Guess I better jump on that bandwagon too!”

      1. pop culture told them to

        If pop culture told them to jump off a bridge, would they?

        Or do you think, just maybe, that pop culture reflects trends – not invents them?

        1. “Jump off a bridge”? Probably not. Because jumping off a bridge carries serious risk of injury or death, whereas adopting fashionable political views typically does not.

          I do believe, however, that if gay characters and performers were almost entirely absent from pop culture, and if every new TV show instead had a token polygamist character, many of these trendy young people would be supporting polygamy and wouldn’t care as much about gay marriage.

          Again, none of this means I oppose gay marriage (I don’t), or that I think pop culture is evil (my name is a South Park reference, after all).

          1. if every new TV show instead had a token polygamist character

            But this hasn’t happened, and it won’t happen unless and until there is already some growing support for polygamy.

  9. Definitions matter. The reality is that gay people are married all over America right now. I went to a gay wedding a couple of years ago in a state that didn’t recognize such. But it didn’t make it less of a “wedding”. It is the legal definitions people fight about not the practical ones. So when people see “making gay marriage illegal” they think it would mean arresting gay people who claim to be married. And few people are going to support that. But gay marriage isn’t “illegal” anywhere. It is not like Polygamy. It is just not recognized by all states.

    1. Is Polygamy really illegal? If I have 2 girlfriends and some Druid priestess declares us married, are the police going to drag us away? Wouldn’t every guy fathering children from multiple women be charged?

      1. Is Polygamy really illegal?

        My understanding is that it is illegal to have a government recognized marriage license with more than one person.

      2. There are actually statutory prohibitions on polygamy even when practiced privately, although I doubt it’s often prosecuted for lack of proof or interest. I don’t think any states have statutory prohibitions on gay or straight marriages entered into privately.

        1. Aren’t there still anti-sodomy laws still on the books in some states?

          1. They’ve all been declared unconstitutional by the federal courts, but that aside, you can be married without having sex (ask anybody who’s married).

            1. They’ve all been declared unconstitutiona

              A fact, btw, which evaded these idiots.

        2. I think the legal theory is that when you’re already married and marry again, you’ve committed fraud by holding yourself out as a bachelor. It’s as if nobody would knowingly marry somebody who was already married.

        3. “In the reign of James the Second,
          It was generally reckoned
          As a rather serious crime
          To marry two wives at a time.”

  10. From the Republicans are evul desk:

    Before long, FreedomWorks ? the love child of Koch brothers cash and Tea Party passion ? and the American Principles Project, a religious-right lobby, had joined the cause. Opponents have mobilized Tea Partyers to barnstorm in state capitals and boiled this complex issue down to an obvious slogan, “ObamaCore!”


    Some of this was inevitable. Local control of public schools, including the sacred right to keep them impoverished and ineffectual, is a fundamental tenet of the conservative canon. In an earlier day, more thoughtful Republicans ? people who had actually read the Common Core standards and understood that the notion of a federal usurpation was a boogeyman ? would have held the high ground against the noisy fringe.

    Republicans (except for the enlightened ones who agree with us) are stupid ignorant babyhaters who don’t believe in twentifirst century educational goals.

    When will those superstitious peasants finally realize we only have their best interests in mind?

    1. They’ve got a point. I mean, who could argue with the efficacy of this approach given the soaring test scores and achievement levels of American students?

  11. Just the ask the question accurately:

    “Should the government license same-sex marriages?”

    That’s really the issue. SSM isn’t “illegal” now, so asking about “legalizing” it is a non sequitur. And before you say there ain’t no such thing as marriage these days without a license, I direct you to the concept of “common-law” marriage, where no license is required to have a no-kidding marriage for all secular purposes.

    The first question is closer to being a good question, just change it so it asks about the “legal” definition of marriage.

  12. Do YOU “Approve or disapprove” definition of marriage? FOX NEWS
    Do YOU “Favor or oppose” legalizing same-sex marriage? FOX NEWS

    Do “Most Americans” “Favor or oppose” same-sex marriage? GALLUP POLL
    Is “Legal recognition” of same-sex marriage inevitable? GALLUP POLL

    Different audiences, different questions, different responses.

    Most couples who marry only have to ask each other – and they ask the same question of each other.

    At 64 years old, inevitable finally became reality (after 33 years of having to wait to ask, witnessed, in public, recorded by law).

    Another 5 years to even be recognized by the federal government.

    I wish all of you would stop asking and leave us alone.

  13. Really i could have told you that -_- That si why i don’t pay attention to polls or surveys because they can be manipulated in so many different ways. By using a know demographic, wording, choices, and many others.

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